Cartoonist Narayan Debnath, creator of legendary comic characters, dies at 96

Narayan Debnath, the legendary Bengali cartoonist whose cast of characters such as Handa Bhonda, Bantul the Great and Nonte Fonte were beloved by millions of readers for decades, has died at the age of 96.

Debnath breathed his last at around 10am at a private hospital in Kolkata on Tuesday, nearly a month after his admission, the Indian media reported.

He was cremated in Howrah district’s Shibpur, where he was born and lived throughout his life, reported Kolkata-based daily the Anandabazar Patrika. His family hails from Bangladesh’s Bikrampur. 

The newspaper said Debnath had problems in his lungs and kidney while the level of oxygen in his blood dropped. The doctors put him on ventilator on Sunday after his condition deteriorated further. 

“Extremely sad that the noted litterateur, illustrator, cartoonist, and creator of some immortal characters for children's world, Narayan Debnath is no more. He had created Bantul the Great, Handa-Bhonda, Nonte-Fonte, figures that have been etched in our hearts for decades,” tweeted Mamata Banerjee, chief minister of West Bengal.

Debnath created the iconic characters in the 1960s which went on to become parts of Bengali childhood for generations, in Bangladesh as well.

His work helped break the stereotype that comics were just a children's novelty and made the medium a beloved cornerstone of pop culture.

He holds the record for the longest-running comic by an individual artist for the Handa Bhonda series which have completed 53 years. He is the only comic artist in India who received a D Litt degree.

The Indian government honoured him with Padma Shree, the fourth highest civilian accolade, in 2021. He also received the Sahitya Akademi and Banga Bibhushan Awards in 2013.